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A detail from a painting by Hieronymus Bosch

In analysing visual culture, the concept of The Gaze (also gaze and Le regard in French) describes how the viewer gazes upon (views) the people presented and represented. As a concept of social power relations, the 1960s ascendancy of postmodern philosophy and postmodern social theory, as exposited by the intellectuals Michel Foucault (the medical gaze) and Jacques Lacan (the mirror stage gaze), popularised usage of the gaze as a term.

Feminist theory developed The Gaze in describing the social power relations between women and men — how men gaze at women; how women gaze at themselves; how women gaze at other women; and the effects of these ways of seeing. Moreover, critical theorists, such as Cornel West, use the Normative Gaze concept in describing how a Euro-centric racial identity (being a white-skinned-ethnic) is an intellectual lens with which Europeans gaze at other human races as social constructs (coloured-skin-ethnics), and not as persons equal to a European.

In cinema, Laura Mulvey identifies such gazes as the Male Gaze, analogously, Bracha Ettinger posits the existence of the Matrixial Gaze in Art, psychoanalysis, and French feminism.


[edit] Forms of The Gaze

Théodore Géricault's Portrait of a Kleptomaniac

The gaze is characterised by who is the gazer (viewer):

  • The spectator's gaze: that of the spectator viewing the text, i.e. the reader(s) of the text.
  • The Intra-diegetic gaze: in a text, a character gazes upon an object or another character in the text.
  • The Extra-diegetic gaze: a textual character consciously addresses (looks at) the viewer, e.g. in dramaturgy, an aside to the audience; in cinema, acknowledgement of the fourth wall, the viewer.
  • The camera's gaze: is the film director's gaze.
  • The editorial gaze: emphasises a textual aspect, e.g. a photograph, its cropping and caption direct the reader(s) to a specific person, place, or object in the text.

Theorists Günther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen posit that the gaze is a relationship, between offering and demanding a gaze: the indirect gaze is the spectator's offer, wherein the spectator initiates viewing the subject, who is unaware of being viewed; the direct gaze is the subject's demand to be viewed.

[edit] Effects of The Gaze

Gazing at someone and seeing someone gaze upon another person, say much about the relation between the observer and the observed; and about the relations, between and among, the subjects of the gaze (the people, place, thing being gazed at); and about the circumstance of the gazing. Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins say that gazing's mutual nature reflects power structures (the nature of the relation between the gazer and the gazed-at subject) that tell us who has the right and/or need to look at whom.[citation needed] Although the gaze might be regarded merely as the action of “looking at” a subject, Jonathan Schroeder says: it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze — an idea basic to feminist textual analysis.

[edit] The Male Gaze and Feminist theory

In the essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of The Male Gaze as a feature of power asymmetry. Theoretically, the male gaze has much influenced feminist film theory and communications media studies.

In film, the male gaze[1] occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. A scene may linger on the curves of a woman's body, for instance. Feminists would argue that such instances are presented in the context closest relating to that of a male, hence it's referral to being the Male Gaze.[2]

The theory suggests that male gaze denies women human agency[citation needed], relegating them to the status of objects, hence, the woman reader and the woman viewer must experience the text's narrative secondarily, by identifying with a man's perspective.

“Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” expands on the theory, saying that sexism exist not only in the content of a text, but may also exist in how the text is presented; through its implications about its expected audience. Theorists note the degree to which people gaze at women in advertisements that "sexualizes" a woman's body even when the woman's body is unrelated to the advertised product[citation needed].

[edit] Responses to the "Male Gaze"

In feminist theory, the Male Gaze expresses an asymmetric (unequal) power relationship, between viewer and viewed, gazer and gazed, i.e. man imposes his unwanted (objectifying) gaze upon woman. Second Wave feminists argue that whether or not women welcome the gaze, they might merely be conforming to the hegemonic norms established to benefit the interests of men — thus underscoring the the power of the male gaze to reduce a person (man or woman) to an object (see also exhibitionism).

The existence of an analogous Female Gaze[3] [4] [5] [6] arises when the Male Gaze is considered. Mulvey, coiner of the phrase male gaze, argues that "the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze…" Describing Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), by Jean Rhys, Nalini Paul indicates that the Antoinette character gazes at Rochester, placing a garland upon him, making him appear heroic: "Rochester does not feel comfortable with having this role enforced upon him; thus, he rejects it by removing the garland, and crushing the flowers".

From the male perspective, man possesses a gaze because he is a man, whereas, a woman has a gaze only when she assumes the male gazer role, when she objectifies others by gazing at them like a man. Eva-Maria Jacobsson supports Paul's description of the "female gaze" as "a mere cross-identification with masculinity", yet evidence of women's objectification of men — the discrete existence of a Female Gaze — is in the "toy boy" adverts published in teen magazines, despite Mulvey's contention that The Gaze is property of one gender. Moreover, in power relationships, the gazer can direct his or her gaze to members of his or her gender, for asexual reasons, such as comparing the gazer's body image and clothing to those of the gazed at man or woman.

[edit] The Gaze and psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan established that the concept of the gaze is important in “the mirror stage” of infantile psychologic development; children gaze at a mirror image of themselves (a twin sibling might function as the mirror-image), and use that image to co-ordinate their physical movements. He linked the concept of the gaze to the development of individual human agency. To that end, he transformed the gaze to a dialectic, between the Ideal-Ego and the Ego-Ideal. The ideal-ego is the imagined self-identification image — whom the person imagines him- or herself to be or aspires to be; whilst the ego-ideal is the imaginary gaze of another person gazing upon the ideal-ego, e.g. a rock star (an Ideal-ego) secretly hoping his/her school-era bully-tormentor (Ego-ideal) is now aware of his/her (the rock star) subsequent success and fame, since school times.

Lacan further developed his concept of the gaze, saying that it does not belong to the subject but, rather, to the object of the gaze. In Seminar One, Lacan told the audience: “I can feel myself under the gaze of someone whose eyes I do not see, not even discern. All that is necessary is for something to signify to me that there may be others there. This window, if it gets a bit dark, and if I have reasons for thinking that there is someone behind it, is straight-away a gaze”. (Lacan, 1988, p.215)

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Armstrong, Carol and de Zegher, Catherine, Women Artists at the Millennium. MIT Press, October Books, 2006.
  • Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory - see External links.
  • Florence, Penny and Pollock, Griselda, Looking back to the Future. G & B Arts, 2001.
  • Jacobsson, Eva-Maria: A Female Gaze? (1999) - see External links
  • Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen: Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. (1996)
  • Lacan, Jacques: Seminar One: Freud's Papers On Technique (1988)
  • Lacan, Jacques:Seminar Eleven: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. NY & London, W.W. Norton and Co., 1978.
  • Lutz, Catherine & Jane Collins: The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. (1994)
  • Mulvey, Laura: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975, 1992)
  • Pollock, Griselda (Ed.), Psychoanalysis and the Image. Blackwell, 2006
  • Notes on The Gaze (1998) - see External links.
  • Paul, Nalini: The Female Gaze - see External links
  • Schroeder, Jonathan E: Consuming Representation: A Visual Approach to Consumer Research.
  • Theory, Culture and Society, Volume 21, Number 1, 2004.
  • de Zegher, Catherine, Inside the Visible. MIT Press, 1996.

[edit] External links

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